After losing its case for photo library cards, the City of Memphis has amended its federal court lawsuit to attack the constitutionality of Tennessee’s new law requiring voters to present a state-issued photo identification card before they can vote. An amended complaint was filed Tuesday by attorneys for the city and for two Memphis voters without state-issued ID cards whose provisional ballots in last Thursday’s election were not counted. The complaint charges that the voter photo ID requirement adds a new qualification for voting beyond the four listed in the Tennessee Constitution and is therefore an unconstitutional infringement on the right to vote under both the federal and state constitutions. The attorneys have asked for an expedited hearing in the case, and have asked the federal court to ask the Tennessee Supreme Court whether requiring otherwise qualified voters in Tennessee to present photo IDs violates the state constitution. No hearing has been scheduled.
The direct challenge to the state’s voter photo ID law comes a week after the city and the two registered voters, Daphne Turner-Golden and Sullistine Bell, failed to persuade U.S. Dist. Judge Aleta A. Trauger to order election officials to accept new photo IDs issued by the Memphis Public Library for voting purposes. Trauger ruled that the state legislature did not intend for photo IDs issued by local governments to qualify, and that the library itself was not an “entity” of the state. She did, however, leave the door open to a direct constitutional challenge to the state law.
The city’s amended lawsuit argues that the Tennessee Constitution’s Article 4, Section 1, provides “the sole and exclusive qualifications for citizens and residents” of Tennessee to vote. That section provides: “Every person, being 18 years of age, being a resident of the United States, being a resident of the state for a period of time as prescribed by the General Assembly, and being duly registered in the county of residence for a period of time before the day of any election as prescribed by the General Assembly, shall be entitled to vote in all federal, state, and local elections held in the county or district in which such person resides. All such requirements shall be equal and uniform across the state, and there shall be no other qualification attached to the right of suffrage.”